Wednesday Wisdom: Acknowledge Your Creativity & Genius

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Once a week or so, I pull a card from my Power of Intention deck. This 50-card deck uses content from Wayne Dyer’s book, The Power of Intention, alongside vintage/retro drawings, to explore concepts that he discusses at length in the book. It’s a great companion to the book and has helped me considerably in my own personal growth and spiritual practice.

This morning’s Power of Intention card is Acknowledge Your Creativity and Genius. “The qualities of creativity and genius are within you, awaiting your decision to match up with the power of intention. Genius is a characteristic of the creative force that allows all of material creation to come into form. It is an expression of the divine.”

Once again I laughed at the results of my card pull, as it’s definitely what I needed to see today. A couple months ago, I began shifting my focus for this 16-year-old blog toward more spiritual and personal growth content, and it’s brought me a lot of creative fulfillment and joy to write more content that aligns with this new focus. That said, there are a few key tasks that I have yet to complete, and I’ve had a long list of excuses as to why those tasks haven’t been done – the latest of which is ongoing pain in my right shoulder. (Watch your body alignment while doing yoga, folks! Especially if you are over 40!)

But the truth is that I am working through some deep-seated fear related to my self-worth, and a long-standing desire for outside validation. These things manifest in indecisiveness and procrastination when it comes to matching up with the power of intention. And I believe it’s also manifested as pain in my shoulder.

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There’s a quote by Calvin Coolidge that I’ve loved ever since I first read it:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

This quote has been a powerful motivator – and yet that motivation does nothing if that initial decision isn’t made to align with intention.

Once we acknowledge and address the fears and beliefs that keep us blocked, we get the power boost necessary to match up with intention and it sets us off on our journey toward self-awareness and spiritual growth. By allowing our creativity and genius to travel alongside persistence and determination, using intention as our compass, we will reach our destination.

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October 1, 2020 – Full Moon in Aries

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After last month’s Full Moon in Pisces, punctuated by dreamy, relaxed energy, we now have a Full Moon in Aries, which is all about the adrenaline rush. Prepare for the crash when this energy burns itself out! While Aries isn’t an easy placement for the Moon, there are benefits to this intensity.

Moon in Aries

The Moon in Aries makes me think of a little kid who has found a box of matches and is lighting every single one: emotions and feelings are sparked, quickly burn out, and another takes its place. This placement is all about instant gratification. The character of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an excellent example of an Aries Moon in action.

Deena* is one of my closest friends and she has Moon in Aries. While she repeatedly calls herself lazy when it comes to cooking, it’s really impatience: she doesn’t want to spend her time preparing an elaborate meal, she wants food NOW and it better taste good and meet all her needs. Ever since we were angsty tweens, she’s been very clear about how she feels about all the nouns: people, places and things. Through knowing Deena (and a few Aries Sun natives, not to mention several Aries Moon natives), I’ve learned that Aries energy is fast and reactive, and excels in the 100-yard dash – but struggles to finish the marathon.

Full Moons occur in the sign opposing where the Sun is located at that time, creating a cosmic see-saw that can lead to disruption on the earthly plane. In today’s case, the opposition is between Aries and Libra, since the Sun moved into Libra on September 22, 2020. Aries is self-directed and seeks to satisfy its own needs first, while Libra is other-directed and wants to find satisfaction in its relationships with those around them. Today, Libra’s scales are heavily weighted by the Aries ram sitting on one side, angry and pouting because it can’t get its way, and Libra is exasperated because there’s no balance.

That said, the Full Moon in Aries provides an excellent opportunity to use the impetuous energy to our advantage and in healthy ways. Here are a few activities for the next couple of days.

Activities for the Aries Full Moon

Dance it out. Put on your favorite tunes and dance your ass off – it will burn off any frustration or anger and you may well forget why you were so mad to begin with.

Say what you want out loud. An old friend of mine used to joke about wanting to shout out her needs while standing in the middle of Nordstrom. While I wouldn’t advise anyone to do that (at least not without a mask and following social distancing rules), there is value in expressing what you want and need right now, AND also taking the time to differentiate between the two.

Wear red. Whether you’re decked out in crimson from head to toe, or wearing red underwear, you’re owning that Aries fire energy!

Crystals for the Aries Full Moon

You can place these crystals on your altar, if you have one, or in a prominent place in your home for 2-3 nights during the Aries Full Moon.

  • Bloodstone
  • Carnelian
  • Citrine

No matter what you opt to do to honor this Aries Full Moon, I hope you’ll find this energy burst to be useful in kicking off the last three months of 2020.

Want to try out my Full Moon Tarot Spread? Check it out here.

 

*not her real name

September 17, 2020 – New Moon in Virgo

new moon in Virgo, new moon, Virgo moon, Virgo, astrology, Girl with Moxie
Today is a New Moon in Virgo: a moment when two feminine energies – the mother Moon and the virgin Virgo – join together to create an emotionally resonant bond.

Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture, Greek goddess, Greek mythology

Attribution: Museo nazionale romano di palazzo Altemps / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)

I always think of the goddess Demeter in connection with Virgo. Demeter was the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility, as well as health, childbirth and the harvest. Like the sign of Virgo, the virgin maid, Demeter was often depicted holding a sheaf of wheat.

Persephone, rape of Persephone, abduction of Persephone, Greek mythology

The Rape of Persephone by Luca Giordano

The most famous myth about Demeter involves the abduction of her daughter Persephone by Hades, the lord of the underworld. She was so overcome with grief that fields went barren and famine ravaged the land. It wasn’t until Zeus helped negotiate Persephone’s visitation agreement between Demeter and Hades that she finally turned her attention back to the harvest, averting what would have been a huge catastrophe for humanity.

Demeter mourning Persephone (Evelyn de Morgan, 1906)

One could say that when the Moon is in Virgo, it’s like the reunion of Demeter and Persephone: mother and daughter come together for a short time to renew their connection, work the land, and plan for their next visit. In this case, that would be at the Full Moon in Virgo, which takes place on February 27, 2021. For us earth-dwellers, that means the goals and plans we make at this new moon will be at a key stage of their development in nearly six months’ time.

Image from The Story of Greece : told to boys and girls (1914) by Mary Macgregor

Moon in Virgo

When the Moon is in Virgo, it weds the Moon’s instincts for self-care and nurturing with Virgo’s love of ritual and routine. This placement feels emotionally met when it is focused on usefulness. It may not always seem particularly touchy-feely, but its goal is finding bliss in practical pursuits. The Virgo Moon is the mom who says, “If you make your bed in the morning, it will feel so much more comfy and inviting when you’re ready to go to sleep.” And once you take her advice, you discover she was right.

This New Moon in Virgo is about developing practical approaches to daily living that also feed the soul. Here are some areas where the Virgo New Moon encourages development, and a few concrete ideas on how to use this energy:

I hope this Virgo New Moon opens up some possibilities in how you organize and plan for your future!

Is Tarot part of your new moon rituals and activities?

Try out my New Moon Tarot Spread.

Mars, red planet, Mars Retrograde Tuesdays, mars retrograde 2020, mars retrograde, retrograde planets, astrology

Mars Retrograde Tuesdays

Mars, red planet, Mars Retrograde, mars retrograde tuesdays, retrograde planets, retrograde, astrology

Mars, the planet of action, ambition, anger and athleticism, turns retrograde on September 9, 2020 in the sign of Aries, one of two signs the Red Planet rules (the other sign is Scorpio). It will appear to travel backward in Aries through November 13, 2020. During this time, we can expect to see some halted plans; any forward momentum we had may be thwarted. This can affect our activities at work, home, and school.

Retrograde isn’t all that bad, though. Any time a planet is in retrograde motion, we are given an opportunity to shift our focus to more inward pursuits:

  • Reflection
  • Review
  • Revision
  • Reassessment

The focus of the inner work is based on the areas ruled by that planet. In the case of Mars, those areas include:

  • Physical activity
  • Ambition and goals
  • Passion, lust, and sex

In the same vein as Venus Retrograde Fridays, I suggest taking one day a week during the retrograde cycle to do work in these areas. Since Mars rules Tuesday, set aside some time that day for Mars Retrograde Tuesdays. Beginning with September 15, 2020 and ending with November 10, 2020, here are some Martian activities to try:

Move your body.
If you haven’t already been exercising regularly, now is the time to get back on the bike, lace up the running shoes, roll out the yoga mat, and/or dust off the treadmill. Don’t push yourself if energy is low – lowered stamina is possible during Mars retrograde – but a 30-minute walk will get your circulation going and your heart pumping. One caveat: if you have been sedentary for a long time, don’t start a vigorous new exercise regimen. Use this time to research different physical activities you might want to try, or talk with your health care provider about ideas.

Eat something spicy or grilled – or both!
Mars rules garlic, ginger, and peppers, so cook up some Szechuan stir-fry, a Thai or Indian curry, or a Mexican feast. (You can check out my recipe for homemade salsa here!) Since Mars also rules fire, a grilled entrée or side dish would be perfect for Tuesday dinners.

Channel your anger.
This year has provided more than enough opportunity for outrage – but how are you working with that anger? How has it been manifesting in your life: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? Some ways to work through your anger include:

  • writing letters to the people/places/things that make you angry (and not sending them – remember, you’re processing this anger for your own personal reflection and to get them out of your system)
  • joining a protest (if you can do so safely)
  • contacting your local and state legislators to express your frustrations
  • signing and sharing petitions related to causes you feel passionate about

Assess your personal and professional goals. Mars likes to make things happen, but during a retrograde period, that drive to achieve and succeed may be thwarted. Sit down with paper & pen and write out your personal and professional goals. Where do you want to see yourself in a year? In five years? Now’s the time to see where you’re at and where you want to go.

What about Sex?!

Mars also rules passion, lust, and sex – and it’s those aspects that often make the headlines for Mars. During a Mars retrograde cycle your sex drive may be the complete opposite of what it usually is, or you may find yourself sexually frustrated with your partner. If you’re not sexually active, Mars retrograde may leave you feeling restless, unmotivated or dealing with a creative blockage (especially if you are an artist or writer).

How to deal with all of this pent up sexual energy? A few suggestions:

Remember this is temporary. Even if you are skeptical about astrology and its effects on daily living, our sex drive ebbs and peaks over time. Shift your attention to something else when the frustration gets overwhelming: exercise, singing or dancing may help.

Open the toy chest. Since retrograde cycles are about reviewing and reassessing the areas of life ruled by the retrograde planet, take time to review what gives you pleasure sexually – and that means open up your toy chest, buy some batteries and figure out what turns you on.

Talk with your partner. Emotions may be running hot while your libido isn’t, and that can definitely cause friction (and not the good kind, either). Open up conversations with your partner about your sex life: what you love about it, what you’d like to try out, what you’d like to work on making even better.

You’re not restricted to just Tuesdays for these Mars-centric activities, of course. Working through anger issues is good at any time, and exercising at least 3 times a week is ideal. But sometimes it helps to know that there’s one day a week devoted to specific self-care rituals, and that’s what Mars Retrograde Tuesday is all about. Make the most of it!

 

Mars, red planet, Mars Retrograde, mars retrograde Tuesdays, retrograde planets, retrograde, astrology

Image attributions:

By derivative work: QuartierLatin1968 (talk)Berlin_-_Brandenburger_Tor_-_Mars.jpg: Oliver Abels (SBT) – Berlin_-_Brandenburger_Tor_-_Mars.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74302639

Closeup of statue face
By Dosseman – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78185777

Planet
By ESA & MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56489423

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September 1-2, 2020 – Full Moon in Pisces

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The Pisces Full Moon happening on September 1, 2020 (or in the early hours of September 2, depending on your time zone) is a beautiful time to dream and reflect. We may feel more inclined toward emotional responses – tears close to the surface, for example, or moodiness – yet also feel receptive and softer than ever before. The Moon, which rules Cancer, a cardinal water sign, is more at home in Pisces, a mutable water sign, but it can easily get lost in the depths, or unable to maintain boundaries when necessary.

Moon in Pisces

When the Moon is in Pisces, it’s as if a spell has been cast over the collective, making us all a bit more tuned in to emotions and the subconscious desires of others. Some folks who have a highly developed intuition may feel extra sensitive during this time. Artists, writers and other creatives may feel overwhelmed with new ideas for projects. Dreams may be more prophetic or insightful. I like to imagine a Pisces Moon – especially this month’s Pisces Full Moon – as rising out of the ocean, soaking wet, with a neon blue octopus clinging to its craters.

Since I began studying astrology 20 years ago, I’ve come to know several people who were born when the Moon was in Pisces. They are dreamy souls, with an ability to see into the subconscious in ways that others cannot. They have incredible compassion and an innate understanding of humanity’s deepest needs. But these Pisces Moon natives also tend to get waterlogged, struggling to find solid footing in the real world.

At this point in 2020, the pandemic, protests, natural disasters and political activities around the world have lit up those areas where humanity is in need of massive change. We have experienced some collective grounding due to all these events and situations, and it’s caused immeasurable stress. This Full Moon in Pisces offers an opportunity for healing by allowing us to soften our gaze and dream a little. We get a chance to visualize what’s possible by tuning in to what unites us – and later using those visualizations to fuel practical, real-world solutions.

Here are some ideas for things you can do to channel this Pisces Full Moon energy. For optimal results, do these activities between Monday night and Thursday afternoon.

Activities for the Pisces Full Moon

  • Get wet. Dance outside in the rain, go for a swim, take a bath. Pisces and the Moon are both connected to water.
  • Visit a body of water. If you live close to a stream, river, lake, or ocean, the Pisces Full Moon is a wonderful time to visit and reflect on the role and meaning of water in your life, and give thanks for its existence.
  • Eat some seafood. Embrace your inner pescatarian and have a meal of fish and shellfish.
    • Vegetarians/vegans can enjoy cauliflower, cabbage, cheese, cucumbers, melon, mushrooms, pumpkins or turnips – these are all Moon-ruled foods.
  • Start a dream journal. This journal could include a daily log of your dreams, as well as a place where you can explore the dreams you want to manifest in the world. For tips on recording your dreams, check out this article.
  • Stare at the clouds. If the weather permits where you live, take a blanket outside, lie down and watch the clouds roll by.
  • Take care of your feet. Pisces rules the feet, so a Pisces Full Moon is a great time to pamper them. Give yourself a pedicure or foot massageor give one to your partner. Even simply washing your feet and following up with lotion or cream can be incredibly soothing.

Colors for the Pisces Full Moon

You can wear these colors in your clothing, jewelry, makeup or nail polish.

  • Iridescent and opalescent shades
  • Silvery grey
  • White

Crystals for the Pisces Full Moon

You can place these crystals on your altar, if you have one, or in a prominent place in your home for 2-3 nights during the Pisces Full Moon.

  • Chrysolite or peridot
  • Coral
  • Moonstone

Want to try out my Full Moon Tarot Spread? Check it out here.

daily writing rituals, writing, morning pages, journaling, daily journaling rituals

Daily Writing Rituals

Over the past 7 years I have developed a daily ritual that has become a key part of my self-care routine. Soon after I wake up, I fix myself a beverage – hot coffee or tea when the weather is cool, and cold-brew coffee over ice with almond milk and stevia in the summer – and sit down in a comfortable spot with my journal and a pen. The pen is usually a fountain pen. I love fountain pens for making my handwriting look beautiful, plus there’s a huge variety of ink colors and it’s much less strain on my fingers and wrist to glide a fountain pen across the page.

daily writing rituals, writing, morning pages, journaling, daily journaling

 

In the course of an hour, I sip my drink and write out my thoughts. Sometimes this includes a recap of the dreams from the night before (in recent months I’ve taken to using a different color ink for jotting down dreams). Often I go over some of the happenings from the previous day. Some days I have a pastry or waffle to nibble on while I write. And I frequently have one of my 2 cats lying nearby, flicking their tail and blinking at me.

Establishing this daily writing ritual has proven to be such a blessing. It starts my day with a quiet, soft reflective activity that allows me space to process and set my intentions going forward. I don’t rush myself or set a timer. I let the words flow out as they need to and I stop when it feels right.

Some days the ritual is a little different. I may do more stream of consciousness writing or a free write in another notebook dedicated for that purpose. Or if the thoughts & ideas are coming really fast, I sit at my laptop and type them out. On multiple occasions the laptop writing sessions have turned into a blog post. But mostly they are for my eyes only.

journaling, daily writing ritual, writing

I’ve had people ask me how to establish a writing practice, or they want to know the “right” way to do what are often referred to as “morning pages.” I’m not a big fan of rules when it comes to generating content, whether for your own personal use or in your career. But here are a few things I’ve learned over time when it comes to journaling as part of self-care and creating a daily ritual that involves writing.

  • Pick a time when you can set aside at least 15 minutes to focus solely on writing. This time may be different from day to day, and there may be days when you cannot squeeze out 15 minutes. But if you can spend 15 minutes scrolling through social media feeds or reading articles online, you can devote 15 minutes to a writing session.
  • Find the writing tools that feel good to you. Don’t want to write by hand? That’s fine – you can use your computer or other device. You can even do voice to text if that works better for you, but know that voice recognition may lead to some unusual copy when you review it later. Do not ask me how I know this.
  • When you don’t know what to write about, keep it simple. Sometimes the blank page can feel intimidating, especially if you are just starting a writing practice. Here are a few opening lines that can get you started. Pro tip: when you really feel stuck, write down a list of things you love or hate.
    • Here is what I know:
    • Here is what needs to be written right now:
    • All the ways in which I have had it: [This is a personal favorite for when I need to rant.]

If you’re interested in exploring analog options for writing, visit my other site, Pensplaining, for product reviews & tips.

Venus Retrograde Fridays

How’s everyone doing? Did you lose your mind after the first 30 days of stay-at-home orders or are you holding on to those last few brain cells? I have my good days and not-so-good days. This week has been really weird, with energy spikes and then 24-hour cycles of I-don’t-give-a-f**k.

But I have one thing I’ve been looking forward to every week since May 13: Venus Retrograde Fridays. I was inspired by Chani Nicholas’s workshops with a special section on Venus retrograde. Chani is a freakin’ brilliant astrologer who explains everything so clearly and with a focus on personal growth. If you’re not following her on social media, and you have even a passing interest in astrology, go follow her now and sign up for her mailing list. I’ll wait.

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A brief primer on Venus retrograde, taken from Café Astrology:

Occasionally, Venus appears to be moving backward in the sky. “Appears” is the key word here, because, technically speaking, no planet actually moves backward in their orbits around the Sun. In fact, they don’t even slow down. Retrograde-station-direct cycles are essentially illusions that result from our point of view from Earth, simply because the Earth is also orbiting the Sun at a different speed than the other planets. Venus is Retrograde approximately 40-43 days every 18 months.

Venus went retrograde in the sign of Gemini on May 13 and will station direct on June 25.

Why should you care? Well, Venus is the planet of beauty and aesthetics. She rules what we value, what makes us happy, and what creative pursuits we enjoy. She is all about sensory experiences: delicious food and drink, leisurely activities, delightful scents and sights. She also rules relationships – surprise, surprise.

So what happens when Venus is retrograde? Retrograde periods of any planet in astrology are a time when the areas ruled by that planet seem to go backwards or sideways. We have to reassess, reflect, re-do, rewrite, rethink; things might not move forward as fast or as easily as we’d like. Since Venus rules love, affection, beauty, values, aesthetics and relationships, that means these are the areas where we need to reconsider what we’re doing and where we want to be during a Venus retrograde cycle. You may start considering a new hairstyle or makeup palette. You might want to clean out your closet and reinvent your look. A romance that was already on shaky ground may end, or past loves may pop up and get you thinking about how that relationship helped or hindered your growth.

Most astrologers will advise you not to make any major changes during a retrograde period. During Venus retrograde, you shouldn’t cut your own hair or sell off your investment portfolio. I tend to agree with that, but I would also add: if you’re able to test out a change in a way that you can reverse it with minimal consequences, it might be worth trying.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about Venus Retrograde Fridays. Venus rules Friday, so Chani Nicholas recommends using this day to focus on Venusian activities. After nearly 8 months of intense client work and dealing with personal issues, I am all about taking better care of me while work is not as crazy busy. I’ve now had two Venus Retrograde Fridays and really enjoyed them, and figured I owed it to the last few regular readers of my blog to share how this works and ways you can honor Venus during this retrograde period.

Here’s a list of possible activities for Venus Retrograde Friday.

    • Lounge in bed for as long as you want.
    • Wear comfy clothes.
    • Play “closet” where you go through your clothes and try out new looks.
    • Reorganize your closet or dresser: by color, by type, by season, by outfit, by whatever.
    • Play “jewelry box” where you go through your baubles (as my fabulously fashionable friend Beth calls them) and put on all of them or try new combinations.
    • Put clean sheets on the bed and fresh linens in the bathroom.
    • Take a long soak in the tub with your favorite scents – bubbles, bath bomb or salts optional (bonus points if you have a glass of your favorite beverage nearby, or you eat a cupcake while in the tub).
    • Deep condition your hair.
    • Put on your favorite perfume or scented lotion.
    • Give yourself a mani/pedi or a facial (YouTube has tons of great tutorials).
    • Teach yourself a new updo for your hair (again, YouTube tutorials are the way to go).
    • Take a nap.
    • Bake your favorite treats and eat them slowly so you can enjoy every bite.
    • Make yourself a fabulous dinner and pair it with your favorite beverage – or order that meal for pickup/delivery.
    • Write a love letter to yourself to open after July 29 (when Venus ends its shadow period).
    • Write out affirmations focusing on loving yourself more, then read them aloud. Some good ones:
      • I am perfectly content to be me.
      • I am good enough just as I am.
      • I love and approve of myself.
      • I choose to love myself unconditionally.
    • Read love poems, a romance novel, chick lit, or erotica.
    • Watch a favorite rom-com.
    • Take a virtual tour of an art museum or historic residence/palace (my personal favorite is Versailles).
    • Write letters and cards to people you care about – or send happy mail to people who need encouragement and/or support. (Here’s a great site to start with if you’d like to write something semi-anonymous to someone in need. Here’s another one.)

While you don’t have to do this on Fridays, it will certainly kick off the weekend on a positive note. And if you can only do one thing you really love on Friday, that’s still good. Venus Retrograde Fridays are all about loving on yourself the best way possible. Enjoy!

Casting into the Waters: Symbolism, Spiritual Practice and Tashlich

Judaism has interested me for many years, probably due in large part to the fact that I was raised Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) and there’s a correlation between SDAs and Jews in how they observe the Sabbath (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) and their dietary restrictions (SDAs encourage and promote vegetarianism, but those who do eat meat will typically shun pork and shellfish). When you grow up in a religious tradition that is a bit outside of the box, even among other evangelical Christian groups, it’s nice to feel understood in some small part by another religious group without having to go into long explanations. This is particularly handy when you talk to fellow Gen X’ers about why you are completely unfamiliar with Friday night TV shows and Saturday morning cartoons during the pre-VCR years.

The Chosen, Chaim Potok I also had an English teacher at my SDA high school who was part Jewish and he had us read The Chosen by Chaim Potok, explaining to us about Jewish traditions and holidays. Momcat and I ended up reading all of Potok’s novels and she, too, was very interested in Judaism. Pops had a colleague whose father had been a rabbi, so she would ask him a bunch of questions about what services were like, the reasons for certain traditions (she particularly liked the use of stones on graves as a remembrance).

I think it’s all these things combined that make me very aware when the Jewish high holidays start. Tonight marks the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish new year. I spent this morning reading about Rosh Hashanah traditions: the blowing of the shofar, eating round challah with honey, eating apples with honey, eating part of a fish or ram’s head. Not sure I would be up for that last one, but I do like the symbolism behind it.

It’s the symbolism behind many Jewish traditions that I find the most fascinating. I don’t recall feeling like it was okay to use or wear symbols of my faith or spirituality while growing up SDA. There were baby dedications in church, and full immersion baptism once you’d studied with your pastor, but iconography and talismans weren’t used or encouraged. I don’t remember any other symbolic gestures or rituals, and in hindsight I think I needed those to help me connect to a higher power.

During this morning’s research on Rosh Hashanah, I learned about Tashlich. The basic premise, as I understand it, is to cast your sins into a body of water. After the Tashlich prayer is recited, you shake your clothes as if to shake off the sins.

Tashlich, Tashlich prayer, Rosh Hashanah

Tashlich prayers (Image courtesy Chabad.org)

But here’s what really spoke to me about this tradition (taken from Chabad.org):

The goal of Tashlich is to cast both our sins and the Heavenly prosecutor (a.k.a. the Satan) into the Heavenly sea. And when we shake our clothes after the Tashlich prayer, this is a tangible act to achieve the spiritual goal of shaking sins from our soul.

Needless to say, the physical motions near the water and fish of Tashlich are not what grant us atonement. But if we pay attention to the symbolism and apply the sincere desire to heal our relationship with G‑d as portrayed in the physical demonstrations of Tashlich, then it serves as a crucial part in the process of repenting and returning to G‑d in purity.

When I lived in Southern California, I often went to the beach to look out at the ocean and have a talk with the universe about what was bothering me. Seeing dark, deep water stretched out in front of me, with no land in sight, was symbolic to me of how vast the soul is, how there is so much going on beneath the surface that I cannot even begin to fathom, but that as I dive down into the depths of my being I can find those parts of myself that need healing, bring them to the surface, then release them back into the water. Going to the beach to process was a huge part of my spiritual growth.

What’s clear to me in this moment is that what I was doing was a form of Tashlich: casting my troubles into the deep sea, letting a higher power help me release them from my soul. I found the symbols I needed and in so doing, I found the spiritual connection and inner peace I craved. And now, every time I go to the ocean, whether the Atlantic or Pacific, I know I can find it again.

Sunset Beach, CA – my favorite place to chat with the universe. (Image courtesy californiasbestbeaches.com)

Shanah Tovah to my Jewish friends, followers and readers.

Of Fire and Hammers*

As I mentioned in the first post of my Gilmore Girls series, I was raised Seventh Day Adventist. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this Christian sect, you can get the basics on what they believe here.

I attended Adventist schools from first grade through 12th grade. Most SDA parents were given the hard sell on making the financial investment in sending their kids to Adventist schools. They could get a great education with the added bonus of a Christian environment and instruction in the Adventist faith. They would be surrounded by supportive teachers who were highly skilled and committed to shaping young minds.

What they didn’t tell my parents was that some of those teachers were misogynistic, narcissistic assholes. I still bear the scars of what my fifth grade teacher, a bitter woman who did not like that my school had moved to co-ed instruction for 5th and 6th graders, said and did during the hell year I spent in her classroom. She told us graphic stories about health and nutrition that I later discovered were wild speculation. She yelled at the girls for asking what she considered to be stupid questions about math assignments. It took therapy sessions and private tutors to help me get over my math anxiety – and, truth is, I still have it. Even after getting high grades in college statistics courses. I also don’t like participating in team sports or many physical activities because our P.E. teacher was a bully. He ended up becoming a cop, which fit his personality, got divorced and, rumor has it, was later kicked off the police force.

They also didn’t tell my parents about the birthday paddle that the principal would use on a “lucky” student at the monthly birthday parties. I never got the paddle, fortunately, but I still picture him wielding that thing and how terrified I was.

In high school – or academy, as the SDAs call it – things weren’t necessarily any better. I was fortunate that my school had some stellar teachers in the English and history departments, and my chemistry teacher was excellent, too. What my French teacher lacked in disciplinary skills and classroom management, she made up for in sweetness and compassion. But our religion teachers ranged from anti-choice zealots to Bible-thumping sexist buffoons. I remember how one teacher told us, laughing, “The Bible says when we go to heaven, we will be like the angels, and since angels are sexless, you better get some now while you can.” Those words, among others shared by him and other teachers, still resonate. Whenever week of prayer came around, which involved long presentations in the school’s chapel, I would dread it, as many of the speakers were extremely conservative, preaching of hellfire and devil music, calling us “sheep” if we went along with the crowd. One popular Adventist singer came and told us how he had been approached by Quincy Jones to sing on “We Are the World,” but when he was given the lyrics, which he found blasphemous, he said no. I still have a hard time appreciating the bigger message of that song. The call always came at the end of the week: will you go up and give your life to Jesus? I would watch my classmates walk to the front, noticing how often it was one of the more popular kids who didn’t strike me as being all that god-fearing, and I’d wonder if I should walk up, too. I never did.

Church wasn’t much different. My parents chose a home church that was more liberal than most, with some well educated, thoughtful ministers who preached insightful sermons about Adventist doctrine without heavily relying on Ellen G. White, the prophet responsible for most Adventist teachings and beliefs. Sabbath school, which was the SDA equivalent of Sunday school for the kids, was usually disjointed and full of dogma, run by adults in the church who ranged in age from 30s to 80s. Every year at Easter, one Sabbath school leader would tell her group in graphic detail about the crucifixion, crying as she demonstrated where the nails went into Jesus’s hands and feet. When I reached high school, I often stood in the hallway outside the youth room during services, talking with the other kids who hung back. None of us wanted to be there, but it was uncool to talk about why. Occasionally someone who had their license would sneak off to get snacks at 7-11 down the street.

There were many Saturday mornings I faked sleep so that Pops wouldn’t try to make me go to Sabbath school. Sometimes I convinced him to drive us to another church for the main service. He told me that once I finished academy, he wouldn’t make me go to church anymore. So when that time came, I stopped.

What’s funny, though, is that for as much as I fought the religious dogma, I tried to belong. One Christmas I asked for a small Bible and hymnal set, and I still have it, all zipped into its matching black leather case, the Bible full of paper slips marking verses used in Sabbath school. I was dutiful in my Bible classes at school, and there was a time when my two closest non-SDA friends were fighting and I went and got my Bible.  I wanted to find answers within the church, because I’d been taught from infancy that we were the true religion, that we followed the teachings of the Bible. I believed all SDAs were infallible, and that if someone did commit a sin, they would be washed clean in the blood of Christ.

But as I grew older, the truth could no longer be hidden. I heard stories of molestation, rape, infidelity, betrayal and manipulation, all at the hands of Adventist church members. I watched my father cry when a family member was hospitalized and held him as he sobbed. I learned the truth of my mother’s barely concealed resentment of certain family members for their acts of selfishness and cruelty. It became clear to me that being a member of the church didn’t make you a better person, nor did it make you immune to suffering or hardship.

So I wrote poems and journal entries about faith and providence, about prayer and suffering. I started asking questions. I investigated other faiths. I attended Catholic masses and Episcopalian services. Once I moved to California, I began reading more New Age and metaphysical books by Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Louise Hay, Caroline Myss. I read about astrology, Tarot, numerology, crystals. I found peace and comfort in reading Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi and visiting the gardens at his Self-Realization Fellowship shrine in L.A. Through developing a spiritual practice that was very different from the religious one I was raised in, I finally got myself to a place where I could give and receive love and compassion to all regardless of their faith. I saw the difference that being spiritual made in my life and, occasionally, I would tell people about it.

But I found that the sense of not belonging never leaves you if it’s in the very core of your being. If you never deal with those feelings of low self-worth, they will rise up in forms you don’t expect, in words that wound deeply. Accusations of being spiritually dangerous or “of the devil” will come out of the mouths of people you love and care about. It happened to my father when he decided to pursue law school instead of the seminary, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was still hurt. It didn’t matter how kind or compassionate I was. I would still be judged and found lacking.

I make my living as a writer. I understand the power of words. I have learned, both professionally and personally, the importance of choosing my words well and that there are times when it is best to remain silent. I can think of many times when I should have been silent instead of spewing words that were a hammer, pounding my beliefs and opinions into others. But I can also think of times when my words, carefully chosen, could have been the fire that needed to burn in someone’s heart and help them find peace.

I write all of this now because it is time I spoke my full truth. It is time I admit to being deeply wounded whenever someone tells me my spiritual practice is not in alignment with God’s plan, or that something I have said or done is the devil’s work. As much as I want to speak words of angry fire or pounding hammers whenever I hear these things, I am going to choose love: a pure burning love that strikes softly but leaves a lasting mark. Because choosing hate hurts me just as much, if not more, than having it given to me.

*”Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29 (NIV)